Church representatives in Latvia say a recent victory by center-right parties in parliamentary elections that also saw a strong showing by a new party supporting Christian values should result in a "more sympathetic attitude" to Christians in the former Soviet republic.

"People were dissatisfied with the present government and wanted significant changes; it's a good sign that half the new parliament will be composed of new faces," said Dzintas Laugalis, a spokesman for Latvia's Evangelical Lutheran church. "Having received no support at all from previous governments, the churches can now expect help in a range of areas under more sympathetic rulers."

The Riga-based pastor was speaking after the October 5 election had endorsed Latvia's newly formed New Times party as the leading group. There was also a strong showing by the country's First Party, which had campaigned on "Christian values" and was led by Eriks Jekabsons, a Lutheran pastor and former kickboxer. 

Laugalis said Latvian voters had supported their country's plans to join NATO and the European Union, but had also sent a message that they wanted tough action against rampant crime and corruption. 

He noted that religious education at state schools and improved financial support from the state would be priorities for the Lutheran church, whose 300 congregations make up 13 percent of Latvia's population of 2.34 million, compared to 9 percent of the population who declare themselves Roman Catholic and 6 percent who belong to the Russian Orthodox Church. 

The head of Latvia's Roman Catholic Church, Cardinal Janis Pujats, also welcomed the "change of direction" offered by the election, and predicted the churches' situation would improve.

"Although there could be problems balancing ...

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